STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
West Fargo swimming and diving coach Marsha Dahl began her coaching career with the Flyers more than 20 years ago. Back then, she had 19 swimmers on her team.
By the time she quit coaching the Flyers, that number had grown to more than 40.
Fast forward to today, and West Fargo's club team garners around 150 swimmers a year. That kind of growth is paying dividends for the Packers, as it boasts its largest team to date: 49 strong, talented young women.
Burgeoning swimming numbers are great for the Packers. More swimmers ultimately lead to greater flexibility, and a chance to stack the deck in postseason competition.
"Generally, it's a good thing. You always want to build for the future. You want to keep West Fargo swimming strong," Dahl said.
But exponential growth also has its shortcomings, and West Fargo's longtime coach is beginning to feel the strain.
"The downside is, out of all those kids, only five are divers, so that leaves 44 swimmers on only six lanes. It's very crowded," she said, of the LE Berger Pool. "And coaching staff has remained the same, so with the numbers we're trying to work with, it's hard to" focus on individual swimmers.
Swimmers also must be more self-reliant.
"We rely on them to be diligent on what they are learning and their efforts from day to day," Dahl said. "We do the best we can, but gosh, it's tough when we have numbers like this."
A big team in cramped quarters also might make for a bit of friction among its members. But not for the Packers; they're power increases with the closeness.
"Our team bond is our greatest strength. We get along really well," junior Mercedes Galt said during the Packers' meet Thursday. "We're all good friends."
While friendship might help with self esteem and assuredness, talent still is a must.
West Fargo has it in droves; a good thing, as it attempts to win a fourth-straight East Region title on Nov. 5.
Beginning with returning State Champion and All-Conference swimmer Danica Dutt, the Packers have strength through virtually every grade, and nearly every competition.
Dutt and Rachel Kranda are two of the most decorated returners for the Packers this season. Dutt helped her team to a fourth-place finish at state last year, and garnered its only individual title with a 59.47-second butterfly.
The sophomore has continued her winning ways this year. On Thursday against Fargo Davies and Moorhead, Dutt took first place in both the 200 yard individual medley and 500 freestyle, while also swimming legs with the first-place 400 free relay and 200 medley relay teams.
At state, Kranda swam a key leg in the fourth-place 400 freestyle, alongside teammates Sam Gunning, Alyssa Olson and Dutt. Olson and Kranda are two of only four seniors with the Packers this year, and both earned All-EDC honors last season.
Kranda, who earned second-team All-State honors last year, placed first in the 200 freestyle during Thursday's meet. She also finished second in the 100 freestyle, and swam legs with the 400 free relay and 200 free relay teams.
But while the upperclassmen definitely have some clout with the Packers, they are but a fraction of the team's total.
"Our sophomore class is pretty much the nucleus of our team," Dahl said. They make up more than 25 percent of West Fargo's total participation.
There also are some fresh faces that could turn out to be banner additions to the Packers' ranks.
"We already have some brand-new seventh graders who made the state cut," Dahl said.
Big numbers may be both good and bad for the Packers, but in the end, Dahl can't complain.
"We will continue to learn things during the next three to four weeks so we can figure out our lineup," she said. "Ideally, we'd like to fill up every event at state with four kids."
West Fargo heads to Fargo South on Thursday for a 5:30 p.m. dual. Hopefully, the result will put them one step closer to the team's goals.
"We want to win EDC again," Galt said. "And place Top 2 at state."